Best Things To Do in Reykjavik
Reykjavik is filled with things to do that range from the usual suspects (museums like the National Museum of Iceland and The Settlement Exhibition) to more uncommon attractions like geothermal spas at the nearby Blue Lagoon. There's also shopping in the form of markets, open-air districts and malls, as well as natural wonders galore like the Golden Circle's Gullfoss (Golden Falls) and Thingvellir National Park. On a clear, sunny day, stroll alongside Reykjavik's Old Harbor to snap photos of the surrounding mountains, the Sun Voyager statue and the Harpa concert hall. Finally, wrap up your day in one of the bars and clubs clustered around Laugavegur.
Updated October 11, 2017
- #1View all Photos#1 in ReykjavikNatural Wonders, Sightseeing, FreeTYPENatural Wonders, Sightseeing, FreeTYPERead More
The aurora borealis (or northern lights) can be an almost eerie sight: Picture emerald green swirls coloring the otherwise darkened sky. But scientists have a boring explanation for this phenomenal natural light show – "collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun that enter the Earth's atmosphere," according to the Northern Lights Centre. Still, it's a pretty breathtaking sight, and if you're visiting Reykjavik in winter, you might want to stake out some time for northern lights gazing.
Although you can see the lights from Reykjavik, you'll increase your chances of viewing them outside of the city. Previous travelers recommend taking a tour with local companies like BusTravel Iceland or Reykjavik Excursions. (But keep in mind that the aurora borealis requires a perfect cocktail of climate conditions in order to show – so you're not guaranteed to see the elusive display of lights even if you book a tour.) If you'd rather hunt for this natural phenomenon on your own, time your visit between September and mid-April.
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The Golden Circle is a very popular, 190-mile-long tourist route that runs by Thingvellir National Park; the 105-foot dual cascading waterfall Gullfoss (Golden Falls); and the geothermal Haukadalur valley's Strokkur, a geyser that gushes water 60 to 100 feet into the air every five minutes; among other attractions.
According to recent visitors, the Golden Circle, which sits in South Iceland about 25 miles away from Reykjavik, is a can't-miss part of Iceland, even on a rainy day. But public transportation does not travel to the region, so plan on hiring a car or joining an organized tour. Past travelers recommend companies like Gray Line Iceland and Reykjavik Excursions.
- #3View all Photos#3 in ReykjavikSightseeing, FreeTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPENDSightseeing, FreeTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPENDRead More
You'll find many sculptures scattered throughout Reykjavik, but for panoramic vistas and a look at one of the city's most iconic pieces, walk along the waterfront to the Sun Voyager (known locally as Sólfar). This steel sculpture, which was designed by Jon Gunnar Arnason, mimics a Viking ship and pays homage to the sun. Its location also boasts picturesque views of Mount Esja, a sprawling mountain filled with hiking trails.
Though you'll likely spend more time walking to and from the Sun Voyager (located about a mile from the city center) than snapping photos of it, recent visitors said the sculpture is a must see, especially on a clear day at sunrise or sunset. Harpa is also situated nearby, making this a great attraction to visit before or after wandering around the concert venue.
- #4View all PhotosfreeSouth Iceland#4 in ReykjavikBeaches, Natural Wonders, Sightseeing, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDBeaches, Natural Wonders, Sightseeing, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDRead More
If you have a limited itinerary, you'll want to prioritize seeing the Golden Circle. But if you're staying in Iceland for multiple days, a trek throughout South Iceland is a must, according to recent travelers. This region, which is south and east of Reykjavik, boasts towering volcanoes, expansive glaciers, gushing waterfalls, ample farmland and a black-sand beach. You may even pass Icelandic horses or spot puffins while traveling around the area.
Besides touring Golden Circle sights like Gullfoss and Strokkur, previous visitors suggested heading to Vík, where the black-sand Reynisfjara and its gigantic cave reside. Snapping photos of Skógafoss and walking behind Seljalandsfoss, two of South Iceland's most well-known waterfalls, are also worthwhile. If you don't want to drive to the region, consider joining an organized tour from companies like BusTravel Iceland and Gray Line Iceland. Nine- or 10-hour excursions to Iceland's south coast start at 12,781 Icelandic króna (about $123.50) per person and include roundtrip Reykjavik transfers and the services of a guide.
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About 30 miles southwest of Reykjavik, Blue Lagoon is one of Iceland's most popular tourist attractions. This geothermal mineral spa gives off an almost otherworldly look with azure-colored water and steam rising from its surface. The lagoon receives more than 700,000 annual visitors. For a little perspective, that's double the country's entire population.
When you arrive at the property, you're given a locker key, in which you can deposit your valuables and superfluous clothing. Next, you can shower and help yourself to the buckets of silica mud, which is said to condition and exfoliate the skin. And then you can hop into the about 100-degree lagoon to soak. Spa treatments cost extra.
- #6View all Photos#6 in ReykjavikChurches/Religious Sites, Sightseeing, FreeTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPENDChurches/Religious Sites, Sightseeing, FreeTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPENDRead More
Iceland's tallest and largest church is also its most photographed site. Named after 17th-century hymn writer and church scholar Reverend Hallgrímur Pétursson, this church took nearly 50 years to complete, with construction on it starting in 1945. The shape of the futuristic structure is a cross between a glacier and a rocket ship.
Recent travelers recommended visiting Hallgrímur's Church to snap photos of the gorgeous structure and listen to the organ playing during free lunchtime concerts on Thursdays and Saturdays. Many also suggest paying 900 Icelandic króna ($9) to ride an elevator up to the top of the church. There, you'll find 360-degree views of Reykjavik.
- #7View all PhotosfreeLaugavegur#7 in ReykjavikCafes, Shopping, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDCafes, Shopping, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDRead More
For open-air shopping, stroll along Laugavegur. This shopping-centric street is filled with boutiques selling souvenirs, clothing and specialty foods like local cheeses and meats. Additionally, you'll find an array of restaurants that serve everything from Icelandic to Italian to sushi.
Recent travelers described the street as lively and were impressed with the variety of shops and eateries, though some cautioned that prices here are generally higher than what you'd find in American stores. If you do decide to shop here, remember that most stores close by 6 p.m. on weekdays (and even earlier on weekends).
- #8View all PhotosfreeHarpa#8 in ReykjavikEntertainment and Nightlife, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDEntertainment and Nightlife, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDRead More
One of Reykjavik's easiest structures to recognize is its concert hall and conference center, Harpa. Situated at the western end of the Sculpture and Shore Walk, Harpa's modern design regularly woos vacationers and architecture buffs alike. In fact, the window-centric building has won numerous design accolades, including the 2013 European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture – Mies van der Rohe Award and the Gramophone Magazine World Architecture Award 2010. The performing arts venue also hosts an array of events, from symphony shows and comedic acts to the Reykjavik Jazz Festival.
First-time visitors love exploring this impressive structure. However, some past travelers who initially visited before 2017 were a bit disappointed to see that the building now limits where you can wander. The lobby, its shops and its restaurants are still free to visit, but checking out Harpa's performance areas and using its bathrooms will now cost you a small fee.
- #9View all Photos#9 in ReykjavikMuseumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDMuseumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDRead More
This interactive museum tells the history of Iceland, beginning with its pagan rituals and ending with contemporary fashion. Along the way, you'll "meet" a medieval chief and a 14th-century nun, among others, and you can hear about their life experiences via a one-way telephone conversation.
Most recent travelers praised this museum's detailed look into Iceland's past. Some also recommend stopping by the museum's in-house restaurant and gift shops.
- #10View all Photos#10 in ReykjavikMuseumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDMuseumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDRead More
As its name implies, The Settlement Exhibition gives visitors a chance to learn more about Reykjavik's first settlers. The museum's main exhibit is an excavation site, which features the remains of a hall inhabited between A.D. 930 and 1000. Travelers can also learn more about how early Icelandic homes were constructed and see Viking artifacts found throughout Reykjavik and on the island of Videy.
Budding archaeologists, history lovers and Viking enthusiasts will love wandering around The Settlement Exhibition. To gain a complete understanding of the museum's collections, recent visitors recommend joining a free guided tour, offered on weekdays in June, July and August at 11 a.m. Complimentary audio guides are also available year-round.
- #11View all Photos#11 in ReykjavikMuseumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDMuseumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDRead More
For a glimpse at what life was like in 19th- and 20th-century Iceland, visit the Árbaer Open Air Museum. This open-air attraction features more than 20 buildings that were originally located in central Reykjavik, plus exhibits about toys, the history of painting houses, early building techniques and more.
Past travelers said this museum offers something for visitors of all ages, though some felt its exhibits did not justify paying an entrance fee of 1,600 Icelandic króna ($15.50) per person. However, waived admissions are available for seniors, disabled visitors and children 17 and younger. Museum fees are also covered for anyone with a Reykjavík City Card.
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